Category Archives: Income

The Great TA Caper

So in the world of American graduate education, you can pay for your education in one of three ways (that I know of): receive a fellowship, work as a research assistant (RA), or becoming a teaching assistant (TA). In the sciences, like my program, the most common method is working in a lab, hopefully doing your own research, in exchange for tuition, fees and a living stipend. However, my program also strongly encourages us to spend at least one academic term as a teaching assistant for the experience.

My first year I took a required grad level class that really challenged me, but also began to change the way I thought about my field of study. I didn’t understand everything but I impressed the instructor, who’s a huge name in the field, with my willingness to debate every.single.topic. When I found out that the TA-ship for his course was open this year, I decided this would be a great opportunity to get that teaching experience in and revisit materials that can only help my own research. Unfortunately TA positions pay less than RA positions, but I could handle a little squeeze for a few weeks.

A few days before the winter break, we got together to go over the course materials and my duties. I’ll be running a discussion section, having offers, doing all the grading and giving a lecture or two. Then as he walked me to the human resources office to fill out the financial paperwork, he casually mentioned that this position would only be 50% funded this year.

Cue record scratching noise.

What? Only 50%? I mumbled “oh,” but inside I was FREAKING OUT. Fifty percent positions do pay all your tuition and fees, but only half the living stipend and there’s no way I can afford to live on $800 a month. I figured I had four options: find a part time job for my evenings and weekends (as if I don’t already work 50 hours a week), take out a student loan (more debt=bad), complain to the administration (and alienate a big wig? yeah right!) or find another 50% position on campus that won’t mind that I’m basically working 100% elsewhere (the unicorn of jobs). Fortunately my boss is almost always in his office so I ran right over. His immediate reaction was anger, which I had never seen before. He came up with the same list I did, in the same order and dismissed them all for the same reasons. Then he said he needed five minutes to make some phone calls.

Apparently unicorns do exist, y’all. He magically found money to cover the rest of my salary by shuffling some grants. AND he’s not going to expect any additional work hours out of me, since he doesn’t want the students or me to suffer. Yes, my boss is still furious with the professor for leaving me only 50% funded two weeks before the new term started, but the professor is a bigwig and neither of us can risk offending him.

Here’s hoping that this is the most dramatic part of being a TA.


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Weekly Update December 10

I hope that everybody had a great weekend. After my crazy weekend my house is decorated, the family fruitcake is soaking in brandy and my dog is happily prancing around the house in his beloved jingle bell collar. I picked it up for $1 a few years ago, thinking it would amuse me for a few minutes before taking it off. However, the little bugger freaking loves it and when I take it off him, he stands under the shelf and whimpers until I put it back on him or distract him with a walk or toy. Anyways, enough mocking my poor pup and on with my weekly update!


Spending: Ugh. I went to Costco and stocked up on baking supplies, then got sucked into a fundraiser for my chorus group and bought nuts and See’s chocolates. I solemnly swear that I won’t buy any chocolate, cheese, butter or nuts until I use up everything I currently have in my pantry, including all 7 (!) pounds of chocolate.

Saving: I’m counting the following as savings. When I went to my dinner party this weekend, I brought a homemade baguette and some cheese from my stash instead of picking up some prefab appetizers. When I invited a friend over to help me decorate, I made a giant crockpot of soup so it would be ready when we got back, rather than picking up takeout. While shopping this weekend, I opted against spending a giftcard I already had since I didn’t really need anything from that store.


This week I took a few breaks from writing to prepare giving a seminar this week. I’m really excited about the content of what we’ve accomplished so far, but nervous about getting it right in front of a group of people who probably understand what I’m talking about better than I do.

Health and Fitness

I walked, walked, walked, ate lots of vegetables, drank a lot of water, said no to seconds and tried not to inhale the entire dessert table on my own. That’s got to count for something, right? My thighs certainly hope so.

Meal Planning

Lunch: rice with aloo gobi & dal, pizza with whole wheat crust and a salad

Suppers: pumpkin stew with dumplings (recipe tomorrow!) stewed lima beans with sweet potatoes & greens

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October 8 Weekly Update

Happy Columbus Day! I’m kind of jealous of whoever gets the day off. Even though my weekend won’t be a three day one, it was still pretty great. A good friend got married on Friday, which translated to a night of dancing with friends, then I spent Saturday on the farm putting in fall transplants (mmm, greens) and picking tomatoes.


Spending: I splurged on brunch out with a girlfriend on Sunday before spending the day cooking, cleaning and laundry. We split vegetarian eggs benedict and strawberry white chocolate pancakes. Carbs and grease are the perfect motivator.

Earnings: None, but I got sent home from the farm with an extra 30 pounds of tomatoes. I guess I’m making a lot of marinara.


I’m really enjoying my lone class, which is helping write me write what will hopefully be my first major publication. I also received the proofs for my first paper in a very minor journal, which was thrilling none the less. After a long talk with my boss, I’m not submitting my name for that competition, which leaves me with a far more reasonable work load this fall.

Health and Fitness

I lost another 2 pounds, through eating a lot of veggies and walking almost 5 miles a day. I’m hoping to add some weightlifting sessions into my week.


Lunches: pinto beans and fajita veggies over brown rice, roasted mushrooms and goat cheese with whole wheat pasta

Suppers: tomato soup (recipe tomorrow!), vegetable soup

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A Little Bonus

Sometimes the financing for grad school can get a little odd. This year’s tuition and fees are being paid for by research, being a teaching assistant, a little bit of work study and a small federal grant. All this patched together actually exceeds my needs each quarter by $175, which means I’ll be getting a bonus check at the beginning of each quarter, on top of my regular stipend.

My first thought was, “Bonus credit card payment!” Then “build up emergency fund!” and “save up for a fabulous meal in Paris!” But then, I realized that the reason I was heading to a meeting in a tunic and leggings is because I ripped a hole in one of my 2 pairs of decent jeans, the other of which is too heavy to wear year round and are wide legged. Also, this morning I was bemoaning the fact that I’m down to 2 bras, a week’s worth of underpants, and a handful of basic tees that don’t have holes or stains.

So, a shopping trip it is! A pair of skinnies, a bra or two, some cute panties and a few t-shirts. I should be able to do that for $175, right? My plan of attack is to swing by my favorite thrift store, then the consignment shop across the street for the jeans and tees, and hit Marshall’s on the way back home for the undies and whatever’s left on my list.

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August Recap and September Goals

Hey folks! Sorry about the radio silence this week: major deadline at work plus studying meant something had to be dropped and blogging was it. But, we reached a breakthrough in my research so at least some of the pressure is off.

August Goals

  • Replace my phone and get a cheaper plan

Yes! I switched from Verizon to Virgin Mobile and reduced the cost of my plan by $20 a month, as detailed in this post.

  • Do practice problems 5 days a week

Not so much. Though now the test is less than two weeks away, so must kick my butt in gear.

  • Work out twice a week

I’m giving myself credit for this. I made a real effort to walk more with the dog, take a daily walk at work and when I got fidgety at my desk, ran the stairs from the 1st floor to the 5th. The department director thinks I’m crazy but my quads are getting toned.

  • Wear eyeshadow 6 days a week (my make-up collection rivals my toiletry collection)

Yes! I think I’m going to continue this process since it’s using things up and its a little bit of an ego boost.

August Additional Income:

  • $80 in cleaning houses. I actually lost the check, but the family kindly sent me a new one.
  • $20 in online surveys, which I’m setting aside for a good pair boots.
  • $20 in mystery shopping
  • $20 from a great switcheroo. A coworker had way too many tomatillos so he left 20 pounds on my desk. I swapped 10 of those for 2 watermelons. I gave the watermelons to 2 friends who really love watermelons and both insisted on paying me $10. Yay!

Other August Updates:

I paid off one of my credit cards! Did you hear that? I paid off one of my credit cards! That’s a total of $4000 paid off since January, and now I can snowball the extra money towards my other credit card.

September Goals

  • put 10% of my income into savings
  • get up to 6 miles of running
  • pass my test!

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July Recap and August Goals

And somehow after another 31 days, it is yet another month. My mind is blown.

July Goals

  • Save $100 towards a new phone

Squeaked it in under the wire by earning the last of the money yesterday, but I did it!

  • Study 1 hour a day for my prequalifying exam

Going by averages, I hit this goal, and I’ve gotten better about doing practice problems during my breaks at work.

  • Do yoga once a week

Nope. I’ve been doing more stretching, which is good, but not a full session of yoga. 50 plus hour work weeks are a little draining.

July Income

  • $50 mystery shopping
  • $30 cleaning houses
  • $20 canning lessons

Not too bad for feeling like I didn’t work much. However,  I haven’t heard from the woman I clean for in a few weeks. Should I call her or just wait for her to contact me? Any opinions?

August Goals

  • Replace my phone and get a cheaper plan
  • Do practice problems 5 days a week
  • Work out twice a week
  • Wear eyeshadow 6 days a week (my make-up collection rivals my toiletry collection)

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She Works Hard for the Money

…Or in this case, produce!

Last night I was contemplating my budget and income (next month is going to be tight!) and realized that I’ve never posted on about a consistent source of income for me. Don’t ask me why, the best I could come up with is that I have so much fun and I’m not paid in cash, therefore I don’t think of it as income. What am I babbling about? The farm.

I’ve been subscribing to Nevermore Farm’s CSA for 4 years. Last summer, when I was finally beginning to accept that I needed to balance my budget, I heard that Deborah needed some extra help on the farm. We came to a very mutually beneficial decision: I go out to the farm once or twice a month, in exchange for maintaining my subscription for free. And it turns out, I really love it out there. It’s so satisfying to spend time with a friend, and at the end of the day look at rows of new transplants, piles of weeds gone, or baskets of produce picked. I also get to channel my inner child and squeal when I get to drive the four-wheeler, forklift, and tractors.

Plus, I still get my deliveries of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, rice and the occasional dozen eggs. And, this year there’s a wheat harvest, so now I’ve got freshly ground, locally grown whole wheat flour. Which translates to a current monthly grocery budget of $40 for milk, yeast, spices and small splurges. If push comes to shove, I could probably go a month without grocery shopping at all.

Monthly savings: $60


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